It never rains in southern California in the summer – isn’t there a song which says that? Having lived in California for 25 years, it’s true, summertime is one long period of blue sunny skies every day and no rain. It actually gets a bit boring having fabulous weather day after day. A few days ago Southern California had some excitement thanks to Tropical Storm Dolores (formerly a Hurricane) which brought a deluge of rain and thunderstorms to an area reaching into Arizona and Nevada. Not only did it rain, it rained hard, enough to wash out a bridge on a critical highway route.
We can’t pin any specific storm on climate change. But, is it fair to suggest an oddball out-of-the-ordinary storm of intense nature could be part of the pattern of extreme storms climate scientists say we’ll be experiencing?
That is, climate science says the weather will give us more extreme storms every year, and that weather patterns will stop being “normal” until they settle into a new “normal”.
It’s one thing to wave my hands and say it never rains in Southern California, especially way out in the desert which saw flash flooding over the past few days. Let me turn to the Weather Channel website which calls this storm a “super historic” rain event.
How historic? San Diego broke not only its July one-day rainfall record (0.83 inches set July 25, 1902) but it’s all-time record for rainfall for the entire month of July (0.92 inches July 1-31, 1902). On Saturday, San Diego received 1.02 inches of rain in one day. And, it had another 0.66 inches on Sunday. San Diego’s total so far in July 2015 is 1.7 inches, most of which arrived in a 36 hour period, and is more rain than the previous 101 Julys combined (a total of 1.68 inches fell during July from 1914 through 2014 in San Diego).
Los Angeles also broke its rainfall record, with the Downtown LA getting 0.36 inches of rain on Saturday, breaking the July full-month record of 0.24 inch from July 1-31, 1886. Los Angeles normally gets 0.01 inches of rain in July.
Truly, it “never” rains in Southern California (in the summer). Except when it does, it seems.
Additionally rain and storms are causing high surf along the coast, and rainfall well inland into the desert Southwest. Further flash flood watches are in effect.
One effect was to wash out a bridge on I-10, the major Interstate route connecting Los Angeles and Phoenix. The washed out bridge forced Caltrans to close I-10, and the map shown above is the alternate routes around the closure. According to a report by WRAL, that section of I-10 carries over 27,000 vehicles a day both directions.
That article says the bridge had passed CALTRANS safety inspections, but washed out anyway. The water came at the bridge from an unexpected direction, undermined the bridge where it connected to the bank, causing the bridge to collapse. CALTRANS doesn’t know when I-10 will reopen, and according to their press release they’ve made an emergency contract for bridge repair and crews are out checking all the other bridges in the area.
The bridge closure is spectacular and is therefore getting a lot of press attention. Let’s instead turn our attention to the bigger picture — the prediction of extreme storms thanks to climate change.
The NRDC has a little sub-site dating from 2012 discussing extreme weather, weather disasters, health effects, flooding, drought and wildfire impacts expected from climate change. That year had been the hottest year recorded up until that point, with more than 22,000 hottest weather records tied or broken, more than 2/3rds of the Continental US in drought, and more. “The earth is saying something with record heat, drought, storms and fire. Scientists are telling us this is what global warming looks like.”
A recent study published in Nature Climate Change, by Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., says that yes the weather is becoming more and more extreme thanks to man-made climate change. The study points its finger at the burning of fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, etc).
Another report, published in the British medical journal Lancet, predicts that exposure of people to extreme rainfall will quadruple and exposure to extreme drought will triple, thanks to changing weather patterns.
Back in 2011, Scientific American published a three part story discussing how increases in extreme weather, which had been predicted by climate change models, were now simply a matter of observing that what’s happening now fits the predictions.
Climate change is expected to cause quite a lot of economic upheaval through events like this one – extreme weather damaging highway infrastructure – rising ocean levels swamping coastal cities, destroying infrastructure located along the coast – wildfires destroying resources around the world, and more. Humans evolved to recognize immediate dangers, such as when one is being stalked by a tiger in the forest, rather than distant dangers in the indeterminate future, such as climate change disasters. That means we need to learn to recognize the warning signs of the changing climate, and begin to take action.
Think of this highway outage as a little tap on the door, trying to gently nudge us awake to climate change dangers. If we fail to recognize this warning tap, the taps will only grow more urgent. Eventually it’ll be in the form of a 2×4 across the forehead, but by then it might be too late.
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